“No, I don’t even have any idea who he is,” I say and give a casual roll of my shoulders to shrug off all the dirty thoughts that raced through my mind when I first heard his voice. “I was just wondering.”
“Well, sweetie.” She pulls a tube of lipstick from her purse and swipes a layer of bright red cream across her lips. “If he’s young and hot, I say go for it. You work too hard and play too little.”
I don’t disagree, and the thoughts of a man’s big warm hands on my body does sound nice, but I’m not the type of girl to jump into bed with a stranger. Heck, I’ve only ever slept with a few guys who were lackluster at best. My first was Jackson Freeman, a guy my father insisted I date after I’d been spending too much time with Cason Harrison in college. I’d given Jackson my virginity out of spite, I think. I wanted my first time to be with someone I loved, but Cason had said some horrible things about me behind my back. I guess in the end I’m glad I didn’t give him my body. Unfortunately, he’s been holding on to my heart for quite some time now. Damned if I don’t want that back.
“Here, try this,” Jennie says and hands me a fresh tube of lipstick. “If your guy is young and hot, he’ll go crazy for this color red. Oddly enough, it’s like an aphrodisiac for men,” she says with a chuckle. “It hasn’t failed me yet.”
“Thanks.” I slide the lipstick into my purse and change into a jumpsuit, stylish yet comfortable and, more important, designed by me.
A big man in a short-sleeve T-shirt that shows off muscles covered in tattoos sticks his head into the room. “Ms. Desiree, your car is here.”
I suck in a fast breath but it does little to settle my sudden bout of nervousness. Am I really doing this? Going home with a stranger who just bought me? Hell yeah, I’m doing this, and you know what, I have two weeks away from home, away from all the stresses and parental pressures to marry me off to a man with a pedigree. For the next couple weeks, I get to spend my time with a man who is going to dote on me, and I damn well plan to take advantage of it.
Jennie blows me a kiss. “Go have fun, Desiree,” she says. “I mean it.”
“Yeah, I will, Chanel.” I tease but mean it, as well. “You, too.”
I gather up my small suitcase and my purse, then slide into much more comfortable heels before following the bodyguard down the long hall. We make our way through the massive building, and I take in a rejuvenating breath when I find my
self back outside, standing on the top step in Cannes’s downtown core. It’s quite breathtaking, actually, and for a brief second I wonder if we’ll be staying in the French Rivera. Apparently, the hosts come from all over, and I pray mine isn’t from New York. This place is straight out of a fairy tale, and I am not ready to go home just yet.
“You have a good night, ma’am,” the guard says as he hands me off to the concierge, who takes my luggage and leads me down the stone steps toward a rare sports car. I shouldn’t be surprised by my host’s wealth, considering the amount he paid for my companionship. We circle the vehicle and he opens the door behind the driver’s seat and I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping I’d be in the front, or on the other side of the backseat, to get a glimpse of the man who fought for me. It’s almost like he purposely positioned me behind him. Does he not want me to know who he is? I mean, sooner or later I’ll find out, right?
“Good night,” I say to the concierge as he closes the door behind me and puts my belongings into the trunk. I shift, buckle my seat belt and angle my head, trying to see into the rearview mirror. The driver taps restless fingers on the dashboard as I situate myself.
“Are you comfortable?” he finally asks, his hushed voice deep and rusty, thick with something I can’t quite identify. There is something so familiar about it, though. Do I know him?
“Yes, thank you.”
He starts the car, and I look out into the night, admire the bright lights and the Christmas decorations on the lampposts. It’s such a pretty sight. But if he wants the full two weeks with me, I won’t even be home for the holidays, not that my absence will be noticed. Mom will likely be off to some fancy ski resort with her friends, and my father will be buried in business as usual. Jennie won’t even be home this year. She’ll be enjoying Cannes with her new host. Her folks always celebrate the season in a big way. They always invite me over and when I was younger, I’d go. A part of me longs for big family dinners, opening gifts around the tree at the crack of dawn, and passing the day away with laughter and board games. I sigh inwardly as I recall those joyous days with Jennie’s family. But she’s been working and traveling, and we’re not kids anymore. Last year I didn’t even bother to put up a tree. But as much as I want a loyal man in my life, and a big happy family, I refuse to succumb to parental pressure and marry for any other reason than love.
Good God, I wish I wasn’t such a romantic at heart.
I shake off my loneliness—my stupid wish that happily-ever-after really did exist—and when the driver puts on his signal and takes a left, I peer into the vehicle’s side mirror and try to get a look at him. The dim light of the dashboard highlights the hard, yet sexy angles of his face as well as the light dusting of whiskers on his chin. That dark shadow, combined with a full head of thick chestnut hair warns me that he’s young.
Maybe that’s the word that jumped to mind because of my current mood. But maybe it’s a warning for him, and not me. It’s been so long since my body has been touched that there is a part of me that might not only accept all to come, but let go and really give myself over to this man—in ways that might even shock him. A little shiver goes up my spine, and once again I ask myself the question, am I really doing this?
Yes, I’m doing this.
He drives a few more blocks and pulls into a private villa overlooking the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea. It’s absolutely breathtaking. I almost can’t wait to get inside and make myself at home.
“We’re here, Ms. Harding,” he says, his muffled voice an octave lower.
He exits the driver’s seat and goes to the trunk to retrieve my luggage. As I watch the way he moves, something niggles in the back of my brain, although I can’t quite figure out what’s suddenly bothering me. But then alarm bells ring loud and clear, and fight-or-flight instincts kick in as understanding hits like a punch to the gut.
He just called me by my real name.
My thoughts race, and I take a minute to recall his voice, his age and those hard yet sexy angles of his chin. The second the tumblers fall into place my jaw drops open.
Oh. My. God.
It can’t be.